The elephant in the room
The analogy is told of five blind men who were introduced to an elephant for the first time.
Using their sense of touch to try to figure out what they were encountering, each blind person felt a different part of the elephant and came to a different conclusion about what an elephant was.
One person felt the trunk. “Hark!” Said he (for this was the ancient times), “An elephant is like a snake.”
Another felt the leg. “By Jove!” he cried (people were pretty corny in the ancient times), “an elephant is like a tree!”
The third felt the elephant’s ear. “Dude”, he exclaimed (he was the coolest of the bunch). “an elephant is like a giant butterfly (he was also a bit of a stoner)”.
And so on and so forth.
The literal message of this parable is that different people experience different aspects of reality and as such, have a different perspective on life.
The truth is, that people have different perspectives on life even when they seemingly see the whole picture – or in our parable, when they are staring at the whole elephant.
Two people can look at the same scene, and see a radically different image. One person might notice the details. Another might see the big picture.
There’s this famous optical illusion that illustrates this point – one person sees the old woman, another person sees the girl.
And it’s impossible to see both simultaneously. As finite human beings, each of us has only a limited scope of the whole of the picture. If reality is a puzzle, each of us holds just one piece of it – an accurate but incomplete assessment of it.
It comes down to values
So different people are destined to see different parts of reality.
But what decides what things you notice, versus the things I take note of?
The things that are important to us, are the things we notice.
This is easily observable when it comes to professions.
An architect looks at a building, and sees the way it was constructed. A graffiti artist looks at it, and sees the scrawls on its outer walls. And an janitor looks at it and wonders who changes all those light bulbs.
Our professions are essential parts of our lives, and help shape the way we view and prioritize the information we take in.
But there are other important facets that shape our world lens, and these are the values we are taught by society, or are innately born with.
Two people can look at a CEO. One sees a successful person who has acquired tremendous wealth and fame. Another sees an unhappy person who treats others terribly and relies on external crutches to boost a faltering self-esteem.
The first person values possessions and stature, the second prioritizes emotional intelligence and inner resources.
What you can learn from this, is that the people you admire are a clear indication of your own value system.
Think of the five people you admire the most. What do you admire about them? Those things are probably important to you, even if you feel like you don’t necessarily live them in your own life.
Don’t assume that other people admire or even notice the same things you do. The things you value in the the world around you are very different than the values and priorities of those around you, and you can use this principle to help identify your own values.
Values = Behaviors
The truly empowering next step behind this idea is that anything you value can easily be manifested in your life.
A value is not some stagnant manifesto. It is something that can quickly and easily become a driving force behind everything we do, and can take us to places we would not have thought possible.
Values inspire passion, and when you are passionate about something, the sky is not the limit.
Do you admire art? Then part of you has value for aesthetics – this indicates an inner artist you may have not realized even existed.
Do you like the way a person carries himself and presents himself to the world? Then part of you values this enough to take note, and as you will see in the accompanying meditation, it is very easy to allow this value to actually express it in your own life.
The ironic conclusion of all that it is often much easier to identify positivity and talent in other people, and yet the only reason we can recognize these traits in the first place is because we have these values deeply embedded in our own value system and inner potential.
As an aside, the reverse is also true.
The Talmud (Kidushin 70b) says “anything someone discredits in another person, is something that is actually a blemish of his own.” In other words, the things you dislike most in other people, are more often than not things that you yourself struggle with yourself; but as we saw when it comes to positive values, it’s much easier to see it in another person than in yourself, and when it comes to negative traits, we have an even greater interest to be in denial about this inner flaw.
The following meditation will help put all this into practice by identifying something you admire in another person and seeing how it’s actually a potential you have lying dormant inside yourself – and how easy it is to bring this positive trait to life.
In this segment we learned:
- The way we perceive the world is based off our personal, subjective value system
- The things we admire in the world around us are key indicators of our own values
- The things that we value can quickly and simply be manifested in our own lives in a tangible, practical way
Previous topics in this series:
- What is meditation?
- What makes meditation Jewish
- Finding your favorite place
- Jewish meditation in time and space
- Exploring perceptions